While finding mucus in your stool can be alarming, a small amount of mucus is normal. However, even though it's something that the human body naturally produces, when an excess of mucus is found in the stool, it can indicate an underlying health condition or disease.
Disease causes inflammation, which then causes the body to produce excess mucus as a way of healing itself. Here's what you need to know about mucus in stool and if/when you should see a doctor.
Causes of Normal Mucus in Stool
Mucus has a jelly-like quality and can be either white or yellowish in color. Its function is to coat and protect your gastrointestinal tract, lungs, sinuses, and throat.
This viscous substance coats the lining of the intestines and colon, serving as lubrication against bowel irritation and stomach acids. The function of mucus in the digestive system is to help food pass through your esophagus, into your stomachs, and then through your intestines.
When Is Mucus in Stool Not Normal?
So, what's a normal versus an abnormal mucus in stool? Abnormal mucus is when a large amount of mucus is present, there's a change in color — including blood or pus in the stool — or it's accompanied by diarrhea.
This excess mucus may also be accompanied by other discomforts, such as fever, bloating, abdominal cramping, rectal bleeding and an increase or decrease in bowel movements. These symptoms may be indicative of a more specific condition, as listed below.
Conditions That Can Cause Mucus in Stool
1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (more commonly known as IBS) is a fairly common condition — present in 25 to 45 million Americans from the teenage years to early 40s, predominantly in females, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. It affects the large intestine, or colon, and can cause excess mucus.
The causes are not fully known, but symptoms of IBS can include abdominal pain, bloating, and alternate between constipation and diarrhea. While there is no cure for IBS, symptoms can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes.
2. Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a more serious condition than irritable bowel syndrome, though it has many of the same symptoms, including causing an excess of mucus in the digestive tract.
Crohn Disease causes the body’s immune functions to go into overdrive, thinking it's constantly under attack, causing excess inflammation. Ulcerative Colitis is a condition of the lower intestine and rectum, where open sores, called ulcers, are present. Surgery may be required for these conditions to heal, but medication may be sufficient to treat symptoms.
3. Bowel Obstructions
There may be something obstructing the bowels from functioning properly, causing excess inflammation and mucus. This can be caused by constipation from food allergies, dehydration or a kink in the bowels.
Treatment most often requires improving hydration, allowing the bowels to function properly or addressing the food allergy. In the case of an anatomical obstruction, surgery may be needed.
Infections due to viruses, bacterial infections and parasites can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, as well as excess mucus production. Viral causes can be the astrovirus, norovirus and rotaviruses.
Shigellosis is caused by bacteria that develops in the intestinal lining due to food and water contamination and overcrowded living spaces. It causes diarrhea, vomiting and nausea and can lead to dehydration. It can go away on its own within a few days, but antibiotics may be administered to provide relief.
Proctitis is an inflammation of the lining of the rectum. The rectum is located at the end of the colon and is the point where the stool is passed out of the body. This inflammation can be caused by sexual transmitted diseases, radiation therapy, inflammatory bowel disease and infections transmitted through food borne pathogens.
It causes rectal bleeding, swelling, diarrhea, abdominal pain and a continual urge for bowel movements. This is usually treatable with a course of antibiotics, unless it's chronic and caused by inflammatory bowel disease, in which case surgery may be required to relieve symptoms.
When to See Your Doctor
With proper medical treatment, the inflammation can be reduced, causing a decrease in mucus production and symptoms. However, medical attention should be sought immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms.
- Increased mucus in stool
- Symptoms of dehydration
- Blood in the stool
- Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology: The gastrointestinal mucus system in health and disease
- Mayo Clinic: Mucus in Stool: A Concern?
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: What Is IBS?
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: About IBS: Signs and Symptoms
- Crohn's and Colitis Foundation: Types of Crohn's Disease and Associated Symptoms
- CrohnsAndColitis.com: Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms
- WebMD: What Is a Bowel Obstruction?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Shigellosis
- MedlinePlus: H. Pylori
- Mayo Clinic: Proctitis - symptoms and causes